Stormy weather made its way into the Town Council Chambers last night as citizens and officials weighed the merit of a lease agreement with Verizon Wireless. An unusually strong turnout of citizens who were opposed to the town’s proposed action took advantage of the public hearing to make their feelings known to the council.
The town was approached by Verizon and began discussions about the possibility of leasing space on the Municipal Water Tower near Josephine Street (see April 11th article). After months of discussion without any opposition the citizens of Josephine Street mobilized against the action and asked the town to reconsider.
Four speakers stood before the council and voiced concerns ranging from health hazards to racism. Josephine Street resident, George Archibald supported the lease, but asked that the town consider compelling the companies that benefit from the lease to list all licensed businesses in the town of Berryville in phone directories free of charge. Other speakers were not in favor . Dee Dee Liggins spoke against the lease on grounds of health and the impact on the community. Easton MacDonald, Winchester representative of the NAACP, reiterated the points listed in his letter to the council saying, “This would mar the historic vista and character of Josephine Street. It would also have a negative impact on neighborhood morale, suggesting that once more, as so many times in the past, Josephine Street is being treated as ‘less than important and historic’ by the larger community.” The final speaker, Larry Yates, characterized himself as a student of, and activist against, racism. Yates said, “We still have a system of racial preference in this nation and in the Northern Shenandoah Valley. Though it is not motivated by conscious prejudice and not by hatred, this siting proposal continues a preference for whites that shapes our lives everyday.”
When the citizen speakers had finished, Mayor Kirby asked the council if they had any questions or comments. Ward Four Councilman, Allen Kitselman had heard all he could take. “There is great injustice in this world, past and present, and this is not a case of it. I’m sorry folks this is a chance for us as council people to put some money in the bank to deal with the cost of the water system. This year alone we have $280,000 slated for tank maintenance. Between the two leases that we have, the $50,000 that these generate without raising taxes for the citizens of Berryville, all of the citizens of Berryville, this lease would go a long way towards that maintenance.”
Kitselman refuted the idea that the antennas posed a health risk by citing a ream of sources. “I’m going to go with the American Cancer Society, the FCC Commission on RF Safety, the National Cancer Institute, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the World Health Organization, and the Environmental Protection Agency. All of the documents that I read before this meeting, point to the fact that there is no credible evidence that this is a health risk.”
However, it was the suggestion that Josephine Street was being treated as, “less than important and historic” that moved Kitselman to anger. “As far as the desecration of Josephine Street which is a very historic place, it is a touchstone for American history in my opinion, and is our own place like that. I am actually disappointed that this would appear on stationery for the NAACP. I’m angry. Because I support your organization and everything it stands for, and to make this case into this, is a travesty. You have expended capital that should be expended on a real problem.”
The mayor closed the public session and moved onto the agenda for the night at which point the majority who showed up in opposition to the action left the council chamber. Later when it was time for Council to address the issue of the lease, it was Kitselman who made the motion to approve. “I’m a design professional and if I thought this would degrade the historic nature of Josephine Street which is in my ward I would be against it. If I thought it was a health risk I would be against it. I am very proud to have this street in my ward. I really think this is a good opportunity for the town and that this is a non-issue and I don’t think we should let it be an issue. I would like to make a motion.
Councilman, Mary Daniel said she had considered waiting on the issue but after hearing the wealth of evidence indicating that the technology was safe, she was ready to support the measure.
When the votes were cast the support was unanimous and the council approved the measure to proceed with a lease agreement with Verizon Wireless.